By the Singh Twins
Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool
Until 20th May 2018
Reviewed by Lisa Worth
Slaves of Fashion, the latest work by the Singh Twins, is no ordinary exhibition.
The quality of the work on show at the Walker Gallery, Liverpool, is striking, but the inherent message is where the power lies.
The narrative tracks the impact of the Western passion for fashion, on poorer communities around the world.
Leo Bridgeman is a visitor guide at the gallery.
He said: “The exhibition is as politically powerful as it is beautiful, and the reaction from the public is amazing. I hear many people saying that they are blown away by the work.”
The Singh Twins have a distinctive style, a contemporary take on India’s miniaturist tradition. Vivid colourways draw the viewer into the detail of the life-size images, with the eye eventually resting on the political symbolism.
The enslavement and exploitation of Indian textile workers empowered Britain, with Liverpool and Manchester benefitting greatly.
The East India Company provided the wealthy with the latest dyes and fabrics, and following the industrial revolution in Britain, cheap imitations were manufactured destroying the Indian market.
One of the works depicts a woman wearing a stunning muslin gown, a very light, diaphanous fabric much desired by the fashionable in England.The gruesome guillotine on the table alongside her, contrasts starkly with her delicate image, representing how the British amputated the thumbs of weavers. This consigned them to menial farm work, which protected the interests of the emerging Lancashire textile industry.
School groups have been frequent visitors to the exhibition, and the impact on them has been notable.
Mr Bridgeman said: “I have been impressed by the thoughtfulness of the young visitors. Their intelligence illustrates their political awareness, and they realise how important it is that we question politicians who, they feel , tell us just what they want us to know.”
The figure of Mumtaz Mahal is perhaps the most poignant. Dressed in that icon of fashion, blue jeans, it tells the story of how the penchant for indigo overtook Europe in the 1700’s. Highly valuable, the dye was called ‘blue gold’, and farmers were forced to turn their land over to cultivating the plant in preference to food. This was a contributory factor in the Bengal famine of 1770 when millions starved to death.
The history of how so many have suffered at the hands of Western vanity and consumerism is depressing.
But with images of Theresa May, Tony Blair and George Bush, and Donald Trump in the collection, we are reminded that the situation still exists today.
Indeed, the process of sand-blasting denim to make it lighter is going on right now in China, directly causing silicosis (a life shortening respiratory disease) in workers.
Mr Bridgeman said: “This collection is one of the best I have ever seen. It’s a beautiful, thought provoking visual experience. People leave re-considering their own consumerism. It should be seen by the widest audience.”
Slaves Of Fashion is on at the Walker Gallery, Liverpool, until 20 May. Admission is free.